Recently, I received that dreaded phone call that all Stage 4 cancer patients fear: "Your scans are back, your disease is progressing, and your chemo is no longer effective."
Fighting back tears and trying to keep my composure, I asked, "What's next?"
Then, I heard the next thing no Stage 4 cancer patient ever wants to hear: "Right now, I really don't have any effective options for you."
I have heard this statement too many times before from others battling this horrible disease. I have cried too many tears, more tears in my two years of battling this disease than I have in the rest of my short 38 years of life. I've watched mothers be ripped out of the arms of their children, husbands left with holes in their hearts to raise children, too many family members left with heartache beyond any words that I can express. It's a heartache felt for a lifetime, a pain that doesn't lesson with time, but only increases. A pain I plead with God that my young children and husband won't feel. The pain I fear more than cancer itself.
The tumor grows on my skull, near my brain and too close for comfort. There is a tumor that is progressively growing along my spine that brings on the growing fear of paralysis. The tumor that was once the size of a pea on the side of my knee that is now the size of a large walnut. The adrenal metastases that sits on my kidney and is increasing in size that leaves my mind to wonder... how long? The thoughts of my tumors growing doesn't bring about fears of dying itself, but more fears of leaving my children and husband behind and the emotional after-effects that they will be left to deal with. The fears of how my husband will teach my daughters about female rites of passage, about love -- heartbreaks that only a mother can empathize with. Lost moments when words won't do for my boys, when only a motherly hug can help. The moments of "I do's" that that they all desperately wish I could see. The time when my five precious babies will have babies of their own -- what will happen if I'm not there to see it? These are the fears that I feel as the disease progresses. The vows that Andrew and I said nearly 15 years ago, "'till death do us part..." that was meant for 50 plus years down the road, not when we still have a lifetime to live.
I have been told to "stop spending all of your energy on trying to 'cure' your disease and spend the rest of your time focusing on building memories and leaving a legacy." I don't believe that advice was ill-willed and it probably came from a place of someone's own loss and experience. That comment has always stuck with me as a source of pain, a thought that I wrestle with. It takes time and money and support to fight this disease. But then, I remind myself of the promise that rolled off my tongue the moment I told my children my new diagnosis of stage IV cancer.
"Mom, are you going to die?"
Through the wailing tears, the kind that are deep from your stomach, the kind that physically hurt, I made a promise to them: "I cannot answer this, I don't know. But I promise you with every breath I get that I will fight to stay here with you!"
I remind myself of my promise every single time that comment comes in my mind. Every time I want to give up and crawl in bed and quit, that promise I made keeps me moving. Those moments I fear not being there for them. That promise keeps me charging. Every time a friend hears those words that I just heard makes me fight harder! I don't know how to stop and let go and build a Hallmark legacy. Perhaps this is my legacy -- not perfect, not wrapped in a pretty bow. No matter the outcome, I hope my legacy, whether I leave it in five months or hopefully 50 years from now, will be, "She fought with every breath that was given to her, for us." So I am keeping my promise and so many are helping me keep this promise to my precious children.
I will fight with every BREATH I get to find a cure and share it with the world that is dying to receive it. Nevertheless, I am racing a clock that is speeding up. A clock that I fear will expire before I find that better way. Every step of this journey, every success we have seen has come from the brilliance of my Oncologist, Dr. Robert Nagourney, who isn't afraid to think outside of the box. Every success has came from the LOVE of our army of friends and the generous hearts who are fighting to keep our family together.
Please feel free to share this post. We are often told, '"you and your family are such inspirations," but the true inspirations in our story, our journey is each of one of you. Thank you.
Sarah, Andrew, and our five precious children
Images courtesy of Love Song Photography